Curran: Pats ready for anything in taking on Tyreek Hill originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – The first two times the Patriots saw Tyreek Hill, they didn’t really see him.
Hill went off for 275 yards and four touchdowns in regular-season meetings with the Patriots in 2017 and 2018. He caught 14 of the 20 passes sent his way.
By the time the 2018 AFCCG rolled around, Bill Belichick had seen enough of Hill losing defenders or his defenders losing him. Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen – corners who ran 4.3 40s - were sent to deal with Hill. There was also a safety shading over the top at times.
Hill caught one pass for 42 yards and the Patriots scored one of the most stirring wins of the Brady-Belichick Era at Arrowhead Stadium.
The last two times the Patriots dealt with Hill they held him to a manageable total of 126 yards. Not exactly bottled up but somewhat contained.
Tyreek’s not in Kansas (City) anymore. And beginning Sunday the Patriots will start from scratch figuring how his new team, the Miami Dolphins, plan to deploy him. Miami didn’t give up five draft picks and cough up a $120M contract to use Hill as a decoy. He’s going to get the ball. How? Hard to say.
“I think that’s the big thing,” Belichick said Tuesday. “We’ll see how they play him, how they use him. Might be different than Kansas City, might not, we’ll see.”
Asked to describe Hill’s speed, Belichick was succinct. “Rare.”
Fortunately, the Patriots still have Jones to put on the case.
Speaking about his team’s success holding Hill down, Devin McCourty said, “Obviously the scheme and going out there and competing (are factors) but I would say Jon Jones doesn’t get a lot of credit on our team over the last few years with J.C. and Steph (having gotten more attention).
“He’s been a key part of our success. His ability physically to run with Tyreek Hill as much as anybody can run with him and go out and compete against him (has made a difference). You put that together with the game plans that we have and it’s been pretty good.
“But this is unique because we’re going against a guy in a whole new offense,” McCourty pointed out. “It’s not as easy as throwing up Kansas City film and saying, ‘Let’s do something similar to what we did before.’ I think it’s gonna be something different.”
The Patriots secondary is different as well. With Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson gone and a fleet of smaller, quick, waterbug corners filling the depth chart, it’s clear Belichick looked around the division and realized the speed in Miami, Buffalo and New York needed to be answered.
Hill isn’t the only receiving addition Miami made. They picked up former Cowboys receiver Cedrick Wilson, a big slot who had an excellent game against the Patriots last year. With Hill, Wilson, Jaylen Waddle and Mike Gesicki – TE/WR hybrid – there’s a lot of talent in the Miami passing game. And a lot of uncertainty with first-year head coach Mike McDaniel in charge.
The research has been deep and the Patriots have gone back to study what McDaniel did as offensive coordinator last year in San Francisco.
“We’ve been trying to blend the preseason games with what San Fran did and trying to say, ‘This guy could be in this role …’ but it’s hard to really tell,” McCourty admitted. “That’s what’s hard about Week 1 games. New offense, new players, not just Hill but Cedrick Wilson in the slot …. We don’t know how that’s gonna mix. We haven’t seen all those guys out there. So there will be a lot of adjusting and figuring out.”
How Hill impacts Miami and whether his presence can propel the Dolphins to the next level is one of the NFL’s biggest stories this year. Sunday, the Patriots are part of the first chapter.